Risk of Loneliness in a Remote Working Business
As an extrovert I have always enjoyed working around other people. When I moved to a fully remote business last year, I was aware that it may be an adjustment for me. I’d been working from home for 2-3 days a week since long before covid made it popular, but there’s something different about never seeing your colleagues face-to-face. But if working for a remote business has been different for me, what must it be like for others who are far less used to working alone? And how about those who live alone and work for a remote business? As managers, these are the questions we need to ask as we keep the wellbeing of our teams at the forefront of our minds.
According to the British Red Cross, more than 9 million people in the UK say they often or always feel lonely and since the start of the covid pandemic this has only got worse. With remote working on the rise, hybrid and remote teams in particular will need to really consider the increased risks of loneliness and social isolation to maintain the wellbeing of their colleagues.
As a fully remote business with colleagues spread across the UK, Europe and India, consciously making time for each other is incredibly important for us at VTT.
Back in the days of traditional office-based workplaces, it was easy to bump into colleagues in the lift on the way into work, at the coffee machine, sat at your desk even. It was easy to make time in the day to grab a coffee with someone, to head out to lunch and easy to form meaningful connections and friendships which made work more than just a job.
As a remote working business these opportunities for spontaneous interaction don’t just happen. Sure, there might be 30 seconds at the start of another Teams call when we’re waiting for the last person to join but filling the silence doesn’t form a meaningful connection!
Luckily, I’ve joined a company full of people who are used to working remotely. They have got making friends, supporting and checking in on each other down to a fine art, in fact it’s part of the culture. From the moment new colleagues arrive they are welcomed by the whole team, surrounded by supportive colleagues and included in initiatives designed to help people get to know each other.
When you work as part of a hybrid or remote team it’s easier for people to get lost or become less visible. It’s harder for people to make connections and harder to reach out for a quick chat when they need one. By purposefully getting to know each other and scheduling time to talk we’ve found it easier to keep the team connected, happy and more aware of each other.
As I said though, this doesn’t happen by accident. In remote businesses people aren’t in the same space at the same time unless they both intend to be there. We need to be intentional about creating opportunities for people to form relationships and connections. In order to create the right environment for relationships to develop and trust to grow between colleagues we need to create these opportunities with purpose.
What can you do?
We certainly don’t have all the answers! But we’ve been running a number of initiatives, activities and experiments which help to keep the team supported and engaged. If you are a remote business and are looking for ways to combat loneliness in your business, here are a few practical ideas we’ve been experimenting with internally:
⏲ Monday morning weekend check-in
A pre-scheduled weekly Monday morning meeting which is entirely social. The only item on the agenda is “what was the highlight of your weekend” with everyone getting the chance to share. The purpose is to find out a bit more about our colleagues. We find out what we have in common, what lights people up when they talk, it also tells you what can spark a conversation if you want to talk to someone you don’t know so well later in the week. You wouldn’t believe how many people in our team have now admitted to watching Below Deck on Netflix….
🎯 Coffee Roulette
Each week we spin the online roulette wheel and match team members together for ‘coffee roulette’. It’s potluck who you get paired with and the only rules are 30 mins of chat with your partner, no work allowed! It’s been a great chance to get to know every member of the team. I’ve enjoyed tours around people’s houses, stories of Indian cuisine, tales of teaching in Korea not to mention a tour of the Acropolis! We use wheelofnames.com a free online tool where you can enter all your team names and even your brand colours and logo if you want to up your game!
💎 Quiz time
Our Thursday team quiz is a highlight of the week. The quiz master rotates around the team so the subject and quiz platform changes often enough to keep things very entertaining. From Kahoot, Mentimeter, YouTube and just plain old Microsoft Forms quizzes we’ve tried them all and watching people try and hide their competitive streak is hilarious. With quizzes on everything from Stars Wars to Sausages, we’ve done them all…and I’m still yet to win one!
🎮 Virtual working platform experiments
Whilst Teams has its benefits, I think it’s safe to say the excitement has well and truly worn off. As a remote team we’ve been experimenting and playing with different virtual platforms. A favourite in the team was our co-working day on Gather where we were able to decorate our own desks (cue fish tanks, plants and bunting) and take breaks together to race the go karts and play games of pictionary or noughts and crosses. Planning meetings or co-working sessions for the team to play and explore different virtual workspaces like Gather, Remo and Butter has been a great way to have fun together and create shared experiences.
💭 Daily Stand-ups
Now this one is work-related, but then it can’t all be fun and games at work, can it? Our daily stand-ups serve a dual purpose. They help the teams focus their priorities for the day, raise any questions and resolve any blockages but they also bring the team together at the start of each day to connect with a common purpose. These conversations are short but important. In these meetings we check-in with each other and share how we are today. It’s a space where we tell our immediate team if we’re having a good day or a bad day, if we’re unwell, if we have a sick kid at home or anything else that might affect mood or performance that day. We share because we know that the team will wrap around us and support us when we need it.
👁🗨 Manager check-ins
With regular 1-2-1’s in the diary there is a framework for the raising any bigger issues but it’s also important that managers don’t wait for these meetings to check-in with the team. Outside of the daily stand-ups, managers will also check-in with team members during the day if they are unusually quiet or don’t seem their usual self. As a ‘camera on’ company, we benefit from seeing people’s body language and facial expressions which makes it easier to spot when something is up.
The truth is initiatives and activities alone can’t stop people feeling lonely. But the hope is that by intentionally putting time aside for the team get to know one another, socialise, and care for one another we can make sure no one feels alone, and everyone has someone they can talk to when they need to.
I hope you found this blog useful and if you take one thing away, I hope it’s got you thinking about what you can do to purposefully create human connection in your hybrid or remote team. We’d love to hear your ideas too!